Usually I don’t read books meant for middle grade kids but in this instance I made an exception because it’s Kenneth Oppel. You probably don’t know this about me, but when I was a kid I really hated reading. I liked being read to–having stories told to me–but I didn’t actually like putting in the effort myself. This meant that I was really bad at reading and it took me a really long time to get the hang of it. However, it all change when one day in class my teach read a novel called Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel. I instantly fell in love with the story and from that point on I had to find other books that were like that one. It wasn’t always someone around who could read it for me so I had to put in the effort to get better at reading myself. Now I read hundreds of books every year and I pretty much constantly looking for new stuff to read.
All thanks to this one Canadian author who liked to write weird stories about bats and one impeccable robotic train.
Needless to say I wasn’t like most of the other girls when it came to choice of reading material. So every time Oppel publishes a new novel I have to read it regardless of what age is intended for. Including his newest book. I got it a while ago but I didn’t get around to actually reading it until recently.
There are plenty of funny and supernatural elements–which is to be expected when dealing with a sentient ink splotch. Even with cast of interesting characters, it was the family relationship at the center I really found compelling. Here’s a home that has been touched by the recent death of the mother and the father is trying to find a way to continue their way of life with her absence. I’m fortunate enough to not have personally experienced this but the emotional backbone of the story is really what pulls everything together. Yes, it’s a fun idea to have an ink splotch come to life and to create a fantastic visual world, but the darker, sinister emotion that comes with lose and how it effects a family is really what the story is about.
I also think that it’s an important story to tell because, even though I haven’t experienced this kind of thing, doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of kids that have experienced something similar.
Of course, if we’re going to talk about this novel, we have to also talk about the artwork in it. I’m an artist myself and I have to say that the little illustrations that come throughout are a wonderful touch to the whole story. Not only do they enhance everything that’s happening but they give you a glimpse into what kind of illustrations are happening within the actual novel. Both the main character, Ethan, and his father use drawing as a way of expressing themselves and how they feel. In a novel with some heavy subject matter, I think it would lose something if the illustrations were not included as they give insight into what the characters are feeling and how they see the world. They’re not just extra within the story, which happens a lot with middle grade and younger fiction, but are actually fundamental to how the stories told.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that this novel has complex characters or plot-lines–it is for middle-schoolers–but there is a lot of heart to this novel. To everyone who has lost someone close to them, they know the loneliness that comes with that lose and how it can feel as if you are losing other you care about as they fold in on themselves to escape what such a lose is doing to them emotionally. This isn’t the kind of thing that is usually found is novels for kids in this age range but I think it should be.